South Carolina House Surprises with Passage of Online Horse Racing Betting Measure

For decades, South Carolina legislators have been staunchly opposed to most forms of gambling, except for the state-run lottery. This is why the introduction of a bill in January this year by a Democratic state representative, allowing pari-mutuel wagering on horse racing, faced an uphill battle in the Legislature.

However, House Bill 3514, proposed by Rep. Russell Ott (D-Calhoun), received adequate support in the South Carolina House of Representatives this week. The bill proposed that individuals aged 21 and over, inside the state’s boundaries, would be able to place pari-mutuel bets on horse races.

The measure, after being passed in the House Judiciary Committee in late March, was discussed and voted on in the House chamber. The chamber voted 55-46 in favor of the gaming expansion statute being passed on to the state Senate.

Following the vote, Rep. Ott commented that it had been a “long shot”. His bill, if passed by the Senate and signed by the Governor, Henry McMaster (R), would alter the state’s legal code to authorize online pari-mutuel gambling on horse races. The pari-mutuel operators would have to contribute 10% of their proceeds to the state, to be allocated to the state equine industry.

Rep. Ott believes his efforts to allow pari-mutuel wagering on horse races are to revive the ailing industry that was once highly valued by South Carolina lawmakers. He noted that when he was a child, many stables were full with people employed in the industry and it was beneficial to the local economy.

The progress of the bill has reignited conversations on gaming expansion in the Palmetto State. Rep. John McCravy III (R-Greenwood) stated that he would support the horsemen, but does not believe that this should be the state’s first expansion of gaming since the South Carolina Lottery was legalized in 2002.

If the legislation were to pass the Legislature, it could be vetoed by Governor McMaster, according to his office. His Chief of Staff, Trey Walker, shared a news article about Rep. Ott’s efforts to allow pari-mutuel betting in South Carolina with a one-word tweet: “Nope”.

Rep. Ott contends that gambling does not have to be feared by state politicians, likening betting on horse racing to planting seeds in the ground and betting on a climate with adequate rain and sunshine. He believes that the legislation should be legalized to allow people who are not farmers to have some fun.